By Yehuda Ceitlin, Editor of COLlive.com
Photos by Meir Dahan for COLlive
Chabad’s vast reach was in full display Sunday as 4,000 rabbis, Chassidim, supporters and avid fans filled the New York State National Guard Armory in Brooklyn.
The gala banquet – a highlight of the International Kinus Hashluchim convention – hosted an array of people that reflected the influence of the Shlichus outreach network.
They ranged from philanthropists George Rohr and Guma Aguiar, attorney Nat Lewin and popular Jewish music star Lipa Schmeltzer to senior and young scholars like rabbis Yosef Wineberg, Yisroel Friedman, Refael David Banon and Young Israel’s Pesach Lerner.
They all gathered to salute the Shluchim families and mark 70 years since Chabad-Lubavitch relocated its headquarters in Brooklyn, where the banquet was held.
With the area under heavy security by the NYPD, special mention was made to the slain Shluchim to Mumbai, India, Rabbi Gabi and Rivky Holtzberg, HY”D.
“Chabad has always symbolized self-sacrifice,” said Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, Vice Chairman of Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch and Director of the Kinus. “This was brought out so painfully last year during the Mumbai attacks.”
Rabbi Kotlarsky mentioned the 500 children who were named after the Holtzberg couple, as reported this past week on COLlive.com.
As a video of the Rebbe was shown, the gallery above was in full working mode: David Scharf of DS Productions, Ronen Peled and wife Nirit, Elkana Shmotkin and JEM staff, Yossi Rivkin and Innovision AV staff.
Thousands tuned in to Chabad.org’s live feed via COLlive and others, with Bruce Backman conducting interviews with mesmerised and enthusiastic participants.
Before a course of salmon and spinach was served, Tehillim was said and a Dvar Torah was heard by British Shliach Rabbi Aryeh Sufrin, recently awarded an MBE by Queen Elizabeth II.
Guest speaker Dr. David Luchins of Touro College shared his family’s relationship with Chabad Rebbes, coupling his Cantonist great-grandfather’s rescue from “spiritual death” by Lubavitch with contemporary stories of Chabad-inspired kiruv.
He quoted U.S. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, whom he served as a member of his staff, as saying: “No man did more to help Soviet Jewry than the Lubavitcher Rebbe.”
Several videos, including haunting interview footage of the Holtzbergs, and a live presentation by dozens of shluchim’s children accented the evening.
An undeniable highlight was the Roll Call, during which Chabad representatives of 75 countries rose upon mention, culminating in the crowd erupting in triumphant dancing led by the Avremi G Orchestra and singer Yoni Shlomo.
Lubavitch.com’s Mordechai Lightstone led a flow of updates on Twitter, and was joined by fellow tweeting rabbis Yisroel Pinson (@RecoveryRabbi), Yosef Kalmanson (@MasonRabbi), Hershey Novack (@rabbihershey) and Zvi Konikov (@JewishBrevard).
As the crown settled down from the Chassidic dancing and the main course was served, the keynote speaker, Rabbi Yudy Shemtov, was called to the podium.
In a fiery speech, the Director of Chabad of Bucks County, PA, called on participants to “go back to basics,” saying his son thought an old fashioned hand-crank window car opener was a novelty.
“To break through barriers in the world, we must break through barriers within ourselves,” Rabbi Shemtov said. “The small picture is the big picture.”
He also spoke about Michael, an American Jewish friend who was killed while serving in the Israel Defense Force:
The dinner was the climax of the 26th annual convention, which has transformed over the years from a semi-formal get-together into the largest single event in the frum world.